Former Apple Retail head Ron Johnson talks remaking JC Penney using Apple experience

Ron Johnson, Apple’s former head of retail, pioneered the concept of the Apple Retail Stores and the Genius Bar a decade ago. As you know, he is also yet another established Cupertino executive to use experience at Apple and tap his peers in an effort to transform an industry and rethink a company. Another one: The iPod Godfather Tony Fadell whose intelligent thermostat made quite a stir among the technophiles. Not everyone succeeds, as evident in the case of former Apple hardware chief Jon Rubinstein, who just left Hewlett-Packard following a series of missteps with webOS and Palm.

Due to take over CEO post at the American mid-range department store chain on Feb. 1, Johnson on Wednesday shed more light on a new strategy for an ailing JC Penney, and boy, does it draw from everything he learned during the Apple gig. He conveniently kicked off his presentation with a slide adorned by an Apple logo, which was immediately followed by another “What Were You Thinking?” slide.

Johnson then launched into an appraisal of Apple, likening the iPhone maker to a prime model of lasting brand experiences. Johnson, who left Target for Apple in 2000, recalled that at the time: “There wasn’t one positive believer who thought an Apple retail store could work.”  He then put up a slide depicting the Grand Central outlet, a massive new Apple store built inside New York City’s landmark Grand Central Terminal.

Reiterating how he built Apple Stores on experiences, not commissions, the executive noted:

It’s not about buying. It’s about enriching someone’s life. [...] The magic of the store that makes everyone want to come is all the stuff you get beyond the transaction, ’cause at Apple, the relationship doesn’t end when you buy. That’s where it begins. And we’re going to do that at JC Penney.

A few other interesting highlights are below:
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Apple CFO Peter Oppenheimer takes charge of retail division as search for Ron Johnson replacement continues

The Grand Central Terminal store opening had Steve Cano and Bob Bridger in attendance

Until November 1, 2011, Apple’s widely successful retail branch was headed by Ron Johnson, J.C. Penney’s new CEO. Since announcing his leave in June of this year, discussion has run ramptant in regards to the successor of Apple’s vital retail division’s leader. Under Ron Johnson sat three central executives responsible for the upkeep and success of Apple’s retail business: Jerry McDougal, Vice President of Merchandising; Bob Bridger, Vice President of VP of Real Estate; and Steve Cano, Senior Director of  International Retail Operations.

In early November, a report claimed that Steve Cano was tapped as the successor of Ron Johnson, but Apple quickly shot down this report and provided comment to 9to5Mac on the situation:

The search for a replacement for Ron Johnson continues, and Apple has nothing to announce about this subject at this time.

With Apple yet to announce a successor for Ron Johnson, the above comment still stands true. Apple has been actively searching for a new retail chief and according to a report from August, Apple has been working with world-renowned executive search firm Egon Zehnder International to find their new retail chief. At this point, it also appears that Jerry McDougall and Bob Bridger won’t be running Apple retail as neither of them are running the retail show right now.

So, who is running Apple retail?  Read more

Apple’s Black Friday Retail Store Sales were “off the charts”


We obviously had to white out numbers above – From Apple’s Retail inventory system.

A source inside Apple Retail has shared with us the numbers for Apple’s Black Friday sales event.  Black Friday is always huge shopping day and Apple forecasted at least 4X sales for the day.  However, because Apple did have the lowest prices on big ticket items like the iPad, it blew away forecasts by 7PM and unsurprisingly had its biggest sales day of all time..

Apple Retail was forecast and broke Retail sales records all over the country today, this is from [redacted] today, the forecast today is more than 4 times what we normally do. We broke the forecast by 7pm.

MacBook Air sales were also particularly strong according to our source.

Apple Store discounts are extremely rare and with more Stores open than ever before, the temptation was too much for many. Read more

Ron Johnson: How I built the Apple Store on experience, not commissions

Ron Johnson, the CEO of J.C. Penney and the former senior vice president for retail at Apple, ran a guest post detailing his Apple tenure over at the Harward Business Review blog, accompanying a monster interview which appears in the December 2011 issue of the Harvard Business Review magazine.

Apple doesn’t owe its success in retail to shiny products, he said. “You don’t need to stock iPads to create an irresistible retail environment”, he said. “You have to create a store that’s more than a store to people”. Even though Apple products can be purchased for less elsewhere, people visit Apple’s stores for the experience, not products, he argued:

People come to the Apple Store for the experience — and they’re willing to pay a premium for that. There are lots of components to that experience, but maybe the most important — and this is something that can translate to any retailer — is that the staff isn’t focused on selling stuff, it’s focused on building relationships and trying to make people’s lives better. That may sound hokey, but it’s true. Read more

Retail update: Redesigned Knox Street store re-opens Friday, new store launches in Spain’s tourist town of Marbella

As Apple’s former retail chief Ron Johnson sets its sights on re-inventing the shopping experience at the J.C. Penney department stores and the search for his replacement continues, the Cupertino, California-headquartered gadget designer isn’t resting on its laurels. Future plans call for continuation of an aggressive retail expansion that includes 40 new stores during fiscal 2012, thirty of them outside the United States. Read more

Ron Johnson tapping former Apple peers but not poaching…yet

Ron Johnson, Apple’s former vice president of retail and the creator of the Apple Store, left for J.C. Penney November 1 and already he is picking industry veterans to join his leadership team at the Plano, Texas-headquartered department store chain. The Wall Street Journal reports that Johnson is tapping former Apple talent, including former chief financial office of Apple Retail Michael Kramer and Apple’s chief talent officer Daniel Walker.

Interestingly, it was Walker who helped Steve Jobs hire Ron Johnson to head Apple’s retail efforts. Both men served at Apple from 2000 to 2005. Granted, Walker and Kramer are both long-exited Apple people, but the temptation for current Apple talent to somehow make its way to Penney will always linger.

Sure, you might say who would  rather work at J.C. Penney rather than the most powerful, cool technology company in the world. But on a granular level, there might be high paying jobs with Johnson that Apple won’t match that could draw some top Apple talent.  Johnson himself is probably the best example of that.

There is also likely a non-compete clause in Ron Johnson’s severance agreement barring him from poaching Apple employees, but those are easily circumvented.  Just as Steve Jobs poached a bunch of his top Apple engineers to build out NeXT…
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